Nhi Le, 130 TESS
Every morning, as I rollover on my twin-sized mattress on top of a queen-sized frame for the fourth time, I wonder to myself, “Why am I here?” While trying to ignore the constant screeching of roosters or the loud rumbling motorbikes outside my bedroom window, I squint one eye and then the other as I toss my body over the edge of the bed. I barely catch myself before landing on my face and try to shake off remnants of sleep as I stumble my way to the bathroom. The rest of my morning routine passes quickly. I brush my teeth, wash my face, and stare at my closet for five minutes, deciding between five worn riap roi (appropriate) shirts I own. Only achieved through months of practice, my sleepy movements morph into a stiff choreography.
I lock my front door and take one last fortifying breath before making my short trip to school. While walking underneath a canopy of fruit trees lining the road, I still find some wonder in being here at this moment. I turn left and take quick small steps, running late per usual, hastening to school – a habit that seems fruitless because Thai time runs rampant in my community. However, ingrained in me are years of rushing from one place to another.
I try hard to be inconspicuous as I scurry along, glancing around while looking as unruffled as someone who has yet to brush their hair. Then, I see him, the old man sitting in front of his house. Every time I do, a small smile graces my lips. What is it about him that puts a little spring in my step? Was it the gifts of fruit he gave me when I first moved to this place? Is it the little pieces of advice he shouts in his lilting language I can barely understand? Is it the shock of white hair or the tanned wrinkles that only age could have carved into his face and hands? It must be the way he greets me with a one-handed salute and a simple, “Wadii kru!” (“Hello teacher!”) that gives my heart this little joy that carries me through most of my morning.
Rounding the bend, my steps quicken even as my brain lags behind several paces. I pass the house on the corner. Four more houses until I reach the entrance of my school. I shout a quick “Sawadee ka” to the school cook’s mother. Step, step, then two more houses. I pass Pii (older sister) Nik, the lady who sells me my daily coco yen (iced chocolate drink) and even encourages my obsession. Two more steps, and I smoothly sidestep the yapping shaggy dog chained outside of the junkyard next to school. One more step, and I take a quick breath before coaxing my smile from its grumpy bed to greet teachers and parents at the entrance. But then, I turn. I brace myself for a dozen tiny children running at me with open arms. My smile fully awake.